Up close with the motoring legends of the Automobile Driving Museum
Historic cars like Packards, Studebakers, Cadillacs and MGs fill LA's Automobile Driving Museum. Here's a look inside.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Just south of the Los Angeles International airport is a small but fantastic car museum. The Automobile Driving Museum is packed full of classic cars from throughout the 20th century.
Early cars like immaculately maintained Model Ts sit next to early V12 Packards and Pontiacs. Unlike in many museums, you can get right up to each car. Only a handful of the cars sit behind rope barriers. You can walk all around them, though (sadly) you can't get in them.
The Automobile Driving Museum is just off the 105 freeway, in an otherwise nondescript business park. In the entrance you're greeted by the friendly employees and a Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar electric car. The wedge shape seems both futuristic and archaic at the same time.
The museum itself is basically just a single open room, about the size of a small aircraft hangar. It has a roughly clockwise progression in time. Entering the main space you're greeted by turn-of-the-20th-century vehicles. Then slowly as you weave your way through them (or around the outside, if you want) you meet the more aerodynamic cars of the late '40s and '50s. A painted mini road on the floor adds a bit of flair.
As the decades increase, there are fewer cars. There are only a handful each from the '70s, '80s and '90s.
One car I was surprised to see was a sixth-generation Mercury Colony Park station wagon, one of the epic land yachts of my youth. Anyone else have memories from the flip-up seats in the back of one of these gigantic boats?
Though I didn't have time during my visit to take a ride in any of the cars, they did move a 1955 Packard that once belonged to actress Jean Peters, given to her by none other than Howard Hughes. It fired up loud and strong. At idle it had a deep, angry rumble, like there was a pack of Harleys under the hood.
There is one room separate from the rest of the museum, containing a handful of the most expensive cars. Generally, they only let you in with a docent. Inside there are even more Packards, a Pierce-Arrow and a Stutz Monte Carlo with a leatherette exterior.
LA has many excellent car museums, like the Petersen and the Nethercutt. The Automobile Driving Museum is smaller, but inexpensive, and can be done in an afternoon. Definitely worth checking out during a week when they're demoing a car you like.
Or if you're not near LA, check out the gallery above for a taste of what the museum offers.